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Previous blogs/Cambodia Updates...

Hysteria, press freedoms, AirAsia, rumors, visa deals

Odd business plans, Cambodia rankings, police, guesthouse part 12

Darkest Heart, Angkor news, pornography 2, driving tests

Transport fun, Apsara Authority, pornography, border beggars

Dumb criminals, Apsara Authority, Hun Sen, Siem Reap image, lakeside

Angkor tickets, more dark Hearts, Preah Vihear, canals

Every Blog / Cambodia Update: August 2001 to the present

the toa Blog

December 2005


HEY YOU! Why just read? Talk, too. Head over to the talesofasia Discussion Forum and toss in your 500 riels worth. Some items from this blog are also cross-posted to the forum for further discussion (or not).

Want to help stop the illegal trade of Khmer artifacts? Sign the petition to encourage the Thai and Singapore governments to sign the 1970 UNESCO convention on heritage protection. Link is here: http://www.heritagewatch.org/petition.php

The toa blog - December 25, 2005

So this is Christmas

Okay, Merry Christmas, etc to all the world, and to the folks back in America I wish a Happy Politically-Correct Include Everybody and Exclude Nobody Regardless of Race or Religion, Cultural Heritage But We Really Needn't Be Responsible for Your Sensitivities So Happy However You Plan to Spend the Day When Much of the Western World Takes a Holiday Because Supposedly the Big JC Was Born and Whether You Like it or not You Get a Bloody Holiday So Shut Up and Enjoy It. Even the Atheists enjoy the day. Surely I'm not the only one who pines for the days when you could say Merry Christmas and not get sued for it.

And some people wonder why I live in Asia.

In Cambodia, Christmas is pretty much non-existent. Tourists look for a celebration, but to the locals, well, it's a day when the tourists look for a celebration and can we have a holiday, too?

In Thailand, the holiday isn't really celebrated but it's well acknowledged, most everyone (at least anyone that's ever been in a shopping mall or watches television) knows what it is, as the holiday seems more the domain of sales promotions than any religious celebration... hmm, not so dissimilar from the States, after all. Anyway, the shopping malls spare little expense in decoration, though it would be nice to see the decorations come down some time before February. The excuse is they always get them down before New Year... which is a particularly handy excuse seeing as they celebrate three different ones and the local new year doesn't arrive until the middle of April. The other unique aspect of Christmas is Christmas carols. No, that doesn't seem very unique, now does it? Well, try listening to them sung in thick Thai accents. "Deck da halls wif boughs of horry, fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra, 'tis da seashun to be jorry, fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra... " And then walking outside to be hit by the searing heat and humidity of Bangkok.

But wherever you are, you cope. Phone calls to and from family back home, dinner and drinks with your expat friends, a gift or two for and from your wife, and your seven-month old son in a Christmas suit. No snow, no Santa, no Donner, no Blitzen, no chestnuts on the open fire, no Jack Frost nipping on your nose... all superfluous anyway if you really think about it.

Merry Christmas to all. So sue me.

Thailand Priorities

Just so you don't get to thinking that everything here is just exactly perfect, there was a report in today's Bangkok Post on a survey conducted on Thai high school students about their behavior. 50% have skipped school at least once, 10% carry a weapon to school, 10% have considered suicide, sexual harassment and sexual abuse are rife and the abuse is a bigger problem for the boys than the girls.

So with these disturbing tales of sexual abuse, weapons, suicide, etc what does an adviser from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry (no, I didn't know that Thailand had such a ministry either, but apparently they do and they even have advisers) say about all of this? With New Year and Valentine's Day approaching she suggests that concerned agencies should keep a watch on teenagers, "From a previous survey, they plan to have sex on these occasions."

toa Update

Bronwyn Sloan has returned with her Phnom Penh Perspective column. This month it's Culture Shock: Home Again.

Joke of the Day

As I mentioned lawsuits... did you here the one about the latest lawsuit in Cambodia? Seems there was a contract dispute in a business deal and a lawsuit was filed. When the hearing came, the judge took both parties into his chambers and sat them down opposite his desk. Upon his desk sat a large pile of cash. The judge turned to the plaintiff and rebuked him thusly, "You have given me here $15,000 to settle this case in your favor, have you not?" The plaintiff looked at the floor and grinned nervously. Expecting no better a response, the judge turned to the defendent and offered a similar rebuke, "You have given me here $20,000 to settle this case in your favor, have you not?" Again, silence and nervous grins. The judge then sat back in his chair, reached over to the defendant's pile of $20,000 and counted off fifty one-hundred dollar bills. "Tell you what I'm going to do, I'm going to return to you $5,000 and then I will judge this case on its merits."

The toa blog - December 22, 2005


Those of you in the west will probably laugh at us, but we are really really cold here right now. Last night it dropped to 16 degrees (that's about 61 for metric-impaired Americans) and today we're not getting over 23 (73 Yankee degrees). Yesterday evening around 5 pm, with the temperature hovering around 20 (Okay Americans figure it out ... if 16 = 61 and 23 = 73, how much is 20?) and the skies overcast it started to drizzle. This is not Southeast Asia weather. Northern Vietnam, Southern China, okay, but not here. Jackets and long pants, hats and gloves, we're seeing it all this week.

And we still blame China.

Guesthouse Saga

Ouch... What is it they say, for every bad deed you need ten good deeds? I think we might need twenty good deeds for this one. One of the many challenges one faces with a guesthouse here, especially one like ours where the rooms come in so many different configurations, is how to juggle bookings and requests when you're full or nearly full every night as we have been this month. While the staff takes their training pretty well, laying the entire month out on a grid and planning who will go where and when is a skill not yet acquired and given both the cultural as well as educational system constraints, not one that is going to pass on easily. Unfortunately, as I found out this morning, despite my best laid plans, the implementation of them sometimes follows a course I never laid out nor even envisioned.

To get to the point of a story, this morning while I was still upstairs having my coffee - I learned long ago not to go downstairs until after I've had that coffee, for what should be obvious reasons - my receptionist woke up a customer at 9:00 a.m. and tossed him out on the street because someone would be arriving soon for the room.


Needless to say, receptionist was most harshly reprimanded and a letter of apology was fired off immediately to the customer with the offer of a free night's stay in the (unlikely I think) event he would wish to grace us with his presence, but in the meantime, I'm reminded again that no matter how often you think you've given your staff proper training, something you either hadn't planned on or thought simple common sense would negate the need to state to your staff what you think is the obvious, you are proven wrong.

And to top it off, it was a word of mouth recommendation that brought this customer in the first place.

Anyone got a band-aid? I seem to have a bit of a cut on my forehead.

The toa blog - December 20, 2005

Truth Revealed

toa has beome privy to the complete dossier on the government's recent investigation into allegations of price gouging on visas on arrival as well as on visas obtained at Cambodian embassies and consulates abroad.

Government: Are you overcharging tourists for visas?
Consulates and border officials: No.
Government: So who is?
Consulates and border officials: Nobody here.
Government: So where are these reports coming from?
Consulates and border officials: Not us.
Government: So who do we blame?
Consulates and border officials: Tour operators.
Government: Thank you.
Consulates and border officials: You’re welcome. Where do I send the check?

The toa blog - December 16, 2005

Visa Overcharges Re-Revisited

According to today's Cambodia Daily signs went up yesterday (or maybe the day before) at the land crossings informing that tourist visas are indeed $20 US and that no "agent" will be permitted to assist anyone in filling out a visa application or in any way offer aid in obtaining a visa on arrival. If this is indeed the case are we to believe that from today onward visas will be obtainable for the correct $20 fee at all overland crossings? Hmm...

Five minutes after writing this I got my first report. Yes, you can get a visa at Poipet for $20. But you will wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. The two people who gave me the report said they waited 45 minutes while others who agreed to fork over 1000 baht for "express service" were given priority ahead of them. Only when they ran out of 1000-baht customers did they turn to the $20 customers.

I figured they'd find a way to keep their revenue coming as I certainly didn't expect the immigration officials to give up this earner so easily.

The toa blog - December 15, 2005

Dual Pricing Thailand

Yours truly is one of several expats quoted in a rather good story on dual pricing which has appeared in the Thai Day newspaper, a publication of the International Herald Tribune. The story can be read here: http://www.manager.co.th/IHT/ViewNews.aspx?NewsID=9480000168366. As far as I can recall I'm quoted accurately.

Pub Street the Dud Street part 2

Brilliant marketing moves of the century. One of the new, dare I say, err, bars, on Dud Street decided that perhaps a great way to create customer loyalty and a name for themselves would be to have a big promotion. Well you would have thought that was the reason for the promotion but after giving up on it they promptly changed their name (again). And the promotion? How about Anchor Beer cans for 50 cents? The significance? The stuff wholesales for roughly 42 cents a can. Do the math. How many cans do they have to sell a night to make monthly rent of $1100? The answer is about 450 cans. Nobody in Siem Reap sells 450 cans of Anchor a night. Very few sell that in a week. I don't even sell that in a month. Welcome to Dud Street 2005-2006 version.

Visa Overcharges Revisited

A few days ago (December 9) I commented that the PM launched a campaign to cease the practice of visa overcharges and the first act was to launch an investigation. Well the investigating team has determined that no consulate is overcharging and all the blame should be placed on tour operators. I suppose I should await the outcome of the investigation at the land border crossings but I already have a hunch this whole thing is going to blow over with no changes. Blame tour operators and deny that you ever inhaled.

The toa blog - December 13, 2005


Yesterday was a national holiday. I only know this because I went to the bank and it was closed. It was Human Rights Day. Cambodia celebrates a human rights day? Sort of like Saudi Arabia celebrating International Women's Rights Day. Apparently, rather than bothering themselves with human rights it was decided simply to observe a national holiday (and human rights, easier to observe if you're on a holiday) for one day and the rest of the year continue as normal. Then again Cambodia takes a national holiday for just about everything. King's birthday, old King's birthday (that was the neat thing about the abdication of Sihanouk, Cambodia got another holiday out of it), Water Festival, Khmer New Year, Coronation Day, Constitution Day, Corporate Day, Corruption Day (this is celebrated rather frequently) National Day, Flag Day, Angkor Wat Day, Angkor Beer Day, Birthday of the third cousin of the seventh king of the fourth district of Battambang Day, Lake Day, Rice Day, Tree Day, Day of Reckoning, Day to Day Day, and after May Day someone got the idea for a June Day, a July Day, and an August Day.

Cambodia has something like thirty national holidays putting it somewhere in the top three or maybe five countries in the world for number of national holidays and it seems every year they add a new one. Next year we're hoping for a National Work Week. For one whole week there will be no holidays. Everyone is to report to work on time. Everyone will take only a one-hour lunch break and stagger their breaks so that the business doesn't have to shut down for three hours. Government employees however, will be permitted to take a three hour-lunch break but with the stipulation that upon conclusion of the lunch break, they will return to their jobs.

The toa blog - December 11, 2005

Pub Street the Dud Street

Our once up and coming nightlife strip has turned into a colossal train wreck of what might and could have been. The sell by date on Siem Reap's "Pub Street" has come and gone: March 31, 2005 if I had to pick one. I've been down there a couple of times lately and could only shake my head in dismay at what a missed opportunity it is. Copied names, copied themes, half a dozen bars competing for the loudest music, the cheapest beer, the lamest name. It used to be you couldn't keep up with the businesses because a new one opened up every month, now you can't keep up because they change their name every other week, and inevitably the new name is no more original than the old name, the only difference is who they're copying off of this time. One place around the corner not only can't make up their mind what to call themselves (they're up to their third or fourth name) they can't even make up their mind whether to be a bar, a restaurant, an internet and coffee shop, or a souvenir boutique.

Stand in the middle of the street and get bombarded with music thundering in a cacophony of clutter and chaos eminating from six different bars, AC/DC blends with the Beatles blends with the Red Hot Chili Peppers blends with Limp Bizkit blends with Michael Jackson blends with Frank Sinatra... New York, New York... get hassled by aggressive tuk-tuk drivers - if they can't get you a ride, weed or a girl is on tap, beggars young and old hang on your arm... oy, what a disaster.

Still, make up your own mind about the place as if you're coming to Siem Reap and looking for a place to get silly you might as well give the place a look, as it is if anything, silly. And there are certainly decent places to eat and drink down there, especially on some of the other blocks, where one can only hope in time more attention will be shifted away from the main strip and spread more evenly around the area. Then everybody benefits. Meanwhile, take Pub Street with a sense of humor, see it as a parody... of itself.

The toa blog - December 10, 2005

World's Dumbest Criminals Re-revisited

Gang leader and number one accomplice get life. Four others - the two in the school with them, the security guard, and the miscellaneous co-conspirator all received 20-year sentences, and the two military personnel involved in the sale of the gun each received 2-year sentences. Chief moron Chea Sokhom now claims the two-year old Canadian boy was shot by police, apparently forgetting that at the time of his arrest he claimed he shot the boy because the boy wouldn't stop crying. Whatever, he's locked up for the rest of his life and if reincarnation is real, this will probably be the best life he'll live for the next few centuries. Good riddance.

Air Asia Madness

While not an international first, it is an Asia first. Discount air carrier Air Asia announced a promotion whereby they are giving away 2,000,000 free seats for travel on any of their routes. Bookings only on their website, promotion started December 7. Took me two hours to get through the system and score a pair of free returns... well, almost free you still pay the taxes... I suppose you probably want to know where I'm flying. Give you a hint... it's for April.

Siam Paragon Madness

Over to Bangkok, the latest in glitzy shopping malls, Siam Paragon, opened their doors this week creating massive logjams of humanity on the local Skytrain as Bangkokians flocked en masse to the grand opening. In a city with probably more shopping malls per capita than any other city on the planet, you'd think yet another opening of yet another shopping mall wouldn't be cause for a fuss, but this is Bangkok.

The mall sits on the site of the former Siam Intercontinental Hotel, a class hotel with class design... nice roof (was, anyway).

Yet another shopping mall, big woo, but I'm interested in the aquarium they've opened there. Siam Ocean World carries a hefty price of 450 baht per adult ($11 US) but at least the price is applied fairly to Thais and foreigners alike. They even let licensed scuba divers take a plunge in the big tank. Sharks, 30,000 species of fish, size of two football fields, there's some potential here. When I get back to Bangkok I'll pop in and give a report and see how it compares to the one in Singapore on Sentosa Island or the one in Langkawi, Malaysia (not very impressive), or the one back home - the New Jersey State Aquarium, which I last visited so long ago (1997) I can hardly remember. Yeah, I know, it's the place in Camden with all the fish.

The toa blog - December 9, 2005

World's Dumbest Criminals Revisited

Remember the idiots with a handgun who created an international incident last June when they held a classroom of kids hostage at the Siem Reap International School? Here's the story if you need a refresher. The trial begins today.

The police ultimately made eight arrests. The four morons of the apoplexy have been charged with kidnapping, premeditated murder, and illegal use of a weapon. A fifth was arrested for allegedly conspiring with the four in an unspecified manner, a sixth for selling the gun used in the crime, a seventh for assisting in the sale of the gun, and the eighth, the school security guard, was charged with conspiracy for allowing the four onto the school to commit their crimes. The family of the slain two-year old boy have also filed a civil case against the group. Regrettably, it's not likely they have any more dollars than they had sense.

Visa Overcharges Under Fire

Cambodia's worst kept secret has finally found it's way to the ears of PM Hun Sen, and Samdech is not amused. The practice of overcharging for visas on arrival at land borders, which has been going on since they first started offering visas on arrival at land borders (1998) has come under the wrath of the PM who is demanding the practice to cease for all the obvious reasons - welcoming tourists to your country by ripping them off doesn't help your image nor inspire repeat visitors. Not surprisingly, the border officials are claiming that it's not them but the tour operators tacking on the extra fees. Tell that to the tens of thousands of tourists who have had uniformed immigration police slam a window shut in their face if they didn't fork over the extra dosh. Another case of they didn't inhale.

Fraudulent Monks

What a scam. Shave your head, don an orange robe, and beg for alms. Well, it's not supposed to be a scam, it's supposed to be life as a monk, but if you really don't want to be a monk, that's okay, too, just act like one and people will give you money and things. Or so a handful of individuals now sitting in Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh thought. There's a crackdown in Phnom Penh on these con-artists and one can only hope the crackdown will spread to Siem Reap as there are from time to time a few bad apples suckering tourists out of cash with sob stories of poverty and trouble. Beware monks with sad stories, either at one of the pagodas in town or even around Angkor Wat, always prime territory for plucking ripe tourists. Sort of reminds me the first time I was at Angkor Wat some eight years ago when a couple of monks started chatting with me. That the conversation turned to matters of girls and sex seemed a bit odd at the time. Doesn't seem so odd now, but then again, I'm no longer under the illusion that an orange robe and shaved head is automatic indication of one on the road to enlightenment.

There are the outright scammers as is being dealt with in Phnom Penh, but a larger fuzzy area exists with the short time monks. How much piety is there with some seventeen-year-old kid doing a few weeks in the pagoda because his parents want him to, or because he got into some minor trouble with the law and it was decided a few weeks in orange robes might sort him out?

I'm a bit cynical about monks, then again I'm a bit cynical about organized religion. Sure, there are many who are truly into the experience, whether it's for a week, a year, or a lifetime. But after having had monks talk about sex, having seen them drink and smoke, hearing stories of monks in brawls, monks in brothels, yeah, cynicism takes hold. I certainly don't drop with rapture at that sight of a saffron robe and the sight of tourists caught up in this living tourist attraction, "Oh, look dear, it's a monk!" (like they're seeing a wildebeast in the wild), inevitably draws a desire to blurt out "do you get this excited when you see a juvenile delinquent back in Melbourne?" Monks are, for better or for worse, part of the tourist experience and probably that's why Lonely Planet has put them on the front cover of three of the five editions of their Cambodia guidebook and on the latest Thailand guide as well. A tired cliche if you ask me. Please stop with the monks on the covers.

Buddhism certainly has its allure with westerners. It's exotic, it's different, it's seen as possessing a degree of spirituality not present in our so-called organized western religions. Well, guess what? Buddhism, which for all the semantical arguments that it's a philosophy not a religion, is and behaves like an organized religion more similar than dissimilar to its western counterparts.

The problem of course is not religion but the exploitation of it. Fraudulent monks begging for alms, televangelists begging for millions, presidents claiming directives from God, governments controlling the masses, or terrorists seeking martyrdom. All for one and one for God. Or something to that effect.

The toa blog - December 7, 2005


Who would think that on December 7 one would still have to concern themselves with whether or not they take an umbrella out with them. It's supposed to be the dry season, the cool dry season (which today it is, surprisingly), yet we are still receiving almost daily showers as if it were still July. If it doesn't rain between now and midnight, this we'll be the first time in I don't know how long, that we had two straight days without rain. And by the looks of the sky at 3:15 pm, we ain't gonna make it. Another global warming thing?


Commission nonsense. Customer gets taxi from Poipet, reaches Siem Reap, tells driver where to go, driver makes excuses, "I don't know Two Dragons, cannot find, I take you Angkor Bayon Kingdom Princess Palace Angkor Apsara Holiday Festive Angkor Hotel, okay?" No, not okay. So driver tries plan B, stop at the Caltex where a dozen motodrivers are hanging around waiting for just such an opportunity, and pretends to have car troubles, 'oh, sorry sir, car no start, this guy take you to good guesthouse (and we can split the commission).' Nope, customer won't have it. So driver calls up our guesthouse, which as far as the customer knows is to ask for directions. Nope, according to my girl, he calls to ask if we pay commissions and when told we do not he tells my girl 'okay, I won't bring you the guest.' Fortunately the guest, a single man of some physical stature, wasn't falling for this either, and the driver, finally realizing this wasn't going to go his way, suddenly remembers how to find us and appears in under a minute. As all previous plans had failed, his last chance is to ask that we call him up to take the customer back to Poipet. No, I don't think so.

Things I'm not supposed to know about: Cleaning girl goes out to run a personal errand, takes the keys with her and comes back without them. Quickly re-located, no harm, no foul I suppose. But if it weren't for my spies, I would never have known.

I'm asked from time to time, what nationality(ies) the bulk of our customers come from. Most common are the English-speaking countries followed by Northern Europeans but a look through the registration book and the back of my memory reveals the following: United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, UK, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Poland, Russia, Czech Rep, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Zaire, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

Guesthouse mascot and her three new offspring are all doing fine and still living under our bed.

The toa blog - December 5, 2005

It's time for same changes here. I've been knocking out these monthly columns for over four years now and to be quite honest with you, I'm bored with them. Not bored with writing per se, but rather bored with sitting myself down at the beginning of each month searching the previous month's headlines for something to which I can put 4,000 to 6,000 words - all in one shot. As such, I feel that as my interest to continue writing under the constraints generated by this column has waned, so too has the quality of the columns, though surprisingly the readership is at an all-time high... go figure.

When I started the Cambodia Update in August 2001, blogging as we know it didn't exist. I'm not so sure the word even existed then, and though the technology existed for people to post daily or near-daily journals, the craze to which blogging has become was certainly at best but a glimmer in somebody's imagination.

Now the blogging craze has firmly taken hold and it's with some surprise I find that people still bother with a monthly like this. Maybe it's easier to follow, I don't know. And while the numbers may show that people have not lost interest in what I write here, I can't tell you how many times I posted a monthly thinking to myself "If this piece of drivel doesn't knock my numbers down 20% next month, nothing will..."

Furthermore, while I've grown dissatisfied with this column, I've not grown dissatisfied with writing, only that I feel constrained to a format, style, and to limitations of content to which I no longer wish to be held.

Therefore, I've decided that as of today, Cambodia Update is relegated to history and in its place I present the toa Blog. I will continue to choose and comment on news events in Cambodia as I always have, with the one advantage that such commentary will not wait until a specific time of month but will appear in a more timely fashion to the actual event as I intend not to publish just once a month with one long blabberfest, but rather several times a week with shorter blabber-, I don't know blabbercocktailparty?

Furthermore, as the website is talesofasia and not talesofcambodia, I also intend to expand the scope of this blog to include news and views on other Asian nations as well. And from time to time I may even go completely off-topic and discuss things that have nothing to do whatsoever with Asia, but have to do with something I feel like talking about. After all, while this is the toa blog, it's also my blog.

So that said, do check in whenever as content will now appear every few days instead of just once a month. And to facilitate discussion, some commentary here will be posted to the toa forum.

And if things still appear more the same than different, well, give me some time. I hope the changes here bode well.

The Road

They mean it this time. We have verification (I think) that they are finally absolutely positively going to build the road (I think). They had a ceremony out on Highway 6 some 35 kilometers west of Siem Reap inviting various dignitaries including PM Hun Sen ("Go to the road, don't wait for the road to come to you!") and successfully shut down the road for six hours while they congratulated each other for a job well done (they got new funding... what about the old funding) and promptly erected four billboards announcing that this time they were really going to build the road and they really mean it. That was a couple of weeks ago and so far, well, they had a ceremony, shut down the road for six hours, and erected four billboards. I guess it's a start.

Of more immediate interest, the road which has dereriorated to its worst condition in five years has just received one of its semi-annual patch jobs and is in good shape now. Once again, two and a half to three hours by taxi.

Birthday Wishes

As it is December 5, toa would like to extend birthday wishes to His Majesty the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej on the occasion of his 78th birthday. His Majesty gave his annual speech last night discussing criticism and lese majeste laws suggesting that perhaps they were a little too strict, and that he too should be open to constructive criticism for to say that the king can do no wrong is to say that the king is not human. The discussion of criticism was of course then directed to the government and especially to PM Thaksin Shinawatra, one who has never been in the least bit receptive to criticism. Let's hope the PM was paying attention.

Speaking of Thailand, we were in Chiang Mai for a week in mid-November during the Loy Krathong festival. I wrote about how this festival is played out in Bangkok back in a November 2003 Thai monthly. Fortunately in Chiang Mai the practice of swiping the krathongs moments after they're launched hasn't taken hold and instead the krathongs actually have a chance to float for awhile. And the environmentally destructive practice of using styrofoam seems to be passing as well. Hard to believe that a former governor of Bangkok actually promoted their use...

However, the purpose of the trip wasn't so much a holiday as it was a scouting mission. Chiang Mai needs a couple of dragons...

I'm more convinced than ever of this after having seen what's on tap in the 500 to 800 baht per night price range. We popped into about fifteen, twenty places and other than the hotel we were staying (the Montri - always good in a pinch, if not looking a little frayed on the edges), only three others would be worthy of my custom and in the case of one, the prices were a bit over the 800 baht cap, anyway.

Seeing as the beta version of the toa Northern Thailand section won't be up for another week or two, if you're thinking of hitting Chiang Mai before then, I'll give an endorsement to Galare, Baan Kaew, Gap's, and if you want a hotel, try the Montri.

One establishment in Chiang Mai has been the subject of a bit of a firestorm on the internet: the Chiang Mai Thai House. After getting a glowing review on the travelfish.org website, yours truly decided to book a room and figuring if anything, a Thai such as my wife might get a better rate, had the missus make the phone call. "Well," they said, "we prefer not to take Thai guests." WTF? Okay, I've talked about profiling and issues with certain nationalities in great detail on this site already (Cambodia Update April 2005) and it's a practice we're all guilty of to one extent or another, but to come out and openly state such a thing is a bit over the top, wouldn't you agree? If there are problems with Thai guests, then why not address the problems individually? We deal with the Cambodian inclination to put ten people in a room and idea that they can pay half price simply because they are Cambodian by simply not allowing them more than four to a room and telling them they can pay the same as everyone else and if this isn't acceptable to them, then they are welcome to find another place to stay. But we have never and would never tell a Cambodian, or anyone of any nationality, that we would prefer not to take their booking solely because of their nationality. Anyway, my experiences with Chiang Mai Thai House found their way onto the internet and a couple of other people independently verified the policy having had similar experiences and this set off a wave of discussion, particularly on the Lonely Planet Thorntree. I think what made this case so special, is that other than this obviously misguided policy, the guesthouse is by all accounts offering fantastic rooms and service for a very reasonable price (they opened at 900 baht, but I believe now are charging about 1100 baht) and they have received quite a few glowing recommendations. So the jury is still out I suppose... I really hope we've seen the end to this.

My overall impression of Chiang Mai accommodation options is that the city, while having no shortage of places to stay, really suffers from a plethora of establishments offering crummy rooms and rude service. As we were really paying attention this time, both my wife and I found that in general, the Thapae Gate area has a particularly bad rudeness problem and not only from many of the Thai businesses, but quite a few of the western tourists as well.

Speaking of discrimination, I found out Wat Doi Suthep now levies a mandatory 30-baht entrance fee for all foreigners. I've discussed dual pricing before on this site (Thailand Update July 2003) and won't go into a long diatribe, but I would like to know where it is that the Lord Buddha said foreigners should be charged mandatory admission to enter one of His temples. A huge sign encouraging donations is fine (it would probably generate more revenue), but demanding entrance fees based solely on ones physical appearance at a place purporting to be a sacred religious site disgusts me.

Sihanoukville discussion

Back to Cambodia. There's been a bit of a discussion recently on the Lonely Planet Thorntree in reference to Sihanoukville motodops, so let's cut straight to the chase... Here's a question, and if you can answer it, please do so on the discussion forum. Have you had any recent experience with motodrivers in Sihanoukville? Good or bad? And how about arriving at the Sihanoukville bus station from Phnom Penh? Problems? A breeze? Discuss here:

Guesthouse Saga

Some words about the guesthouse. It's high season, Two Dragons are happy. Upgraded some rooms, hired some new staff (and had another one quit) and otherwise we just keep plugging along.

Our cat finally has a name: No-Name sort of evolved into Naomi so Naomi it is ... and today she had her kittens. Three of them. This photo was taken about fifteen minutes after the last one was born.

When we figured out the great event was imminent (not difficult if you've ever seen a cat an hour or two before giving birth), we slapped a couple of beer boxes together and threw in an old towel and shoved it under our bed whereupon she wasted no time settling in. Within about fifteen minutes the first kitten was born, the other two arrived about forty-five minutes later. Looks like we got one black one, one black and white one (just like Mom), and one grey tabby. The four are doing fine and it looks they'll be living under our bed for awhile.

Pretty amazing to see a cat transform in only a few months from being completely wild to letting you sit and watch her have kittens. And by her behavior this morning it seemed she was going out of her way to pester us into helping her. I suppose her alternative would have been to find some dirty corner in the roof somewhere. Lucky cat she is.

I've told staff stories, I've told cat stories, now it's time for a customer story:

Young European woman walks in and takes a fan room. An hour later as I'm in my own room working, my head girl knocks on the door, "Umm, boss, customer want something I don't understand." Yeah, yeah, yeah... okay, let's see what this is about.
"Sorry, maybe my English not so good," says the guest, "but there is a problem with the shower."
Okay I think, we've had problems before, usually solved in under a minute. "So what's the problem?"
"I go to take a shower and the floor gets wet."
Umm, okay. I turn on the shower and see that it is operating normally and the water is finding it's way to the drain which is also working properly.
'See," she says, "the drain, it's too far away. I take a shower, my feet will stay wet, how can I walk into the room?"
Hmmm.. I scratch my chin, suppressing an urge to say 'put one foot in front of the other.' So I settle for a, "First time in Asia, is it?"
"Well, I can't stay in a room like this."
Apparently not. "Most guesthouses in Asia are like this. In eight years in Asia every apartment I've ever lived in except one had the same thing. This is an Asian bathroom. They're supposed to get wet. That's why the shower is on the wall and you stand on the floor."
"But this is unacceptable."
Not the first time a westerner said that about Asia. "So you'll be looking to go someplace else?"
And she did. I only wonder how many places she visited before giving up on finding a bathroom where the floor doesn't get a bit wet after a shower.

Mother and baby on top... mother and kittens below.

Joke of the day

Last year, the Ministers of Transport and Public Works for Thailand and Cambodia met in Bangkok . After their formal meeting, the Thai minister invited his Cambodian colleague back to his home. The Cambodian minister was impressed. "What a beautiful home you have here! How did you ever build such a manor?" The Thai minister takes his colleague to the window and says, "Ahh, it was nothing, please have a look outside." The Cambodian minister peers outside to see a modern eight-lane elevated superhighway, traffic whizzing by, everything in order. "See the highway," the Thai minister exclaims, "I take 10%!" The Cambodian minister was indeed impressed.

One year later, the two colleagues are again attending a meeting only this time it's in Phnom Penh . And again after the formalities are dispensed with, the Cambodian minister invites his Thai colleague back to his home. Upon arriving the Thai minister is dumbfounded as they approach the most enormous house he has ever seen. "My God, Your Excellency, How did you ever build such a, such a, such a palace?" “I will show you,” he answers. Once inside the Cambodian minister takes his colleague to the window, "Please have a look outside." The Thai minister peers outside to see nothing but a few motos and a beat up Camry taxi bouncing along a dirt track amongst rice paddies and palm trees. "Do you see the super highway?” asks the Cambodian Minister. "Umm, no, I don't see any highway at all," replies the Thai minister, slightly perplexed. "That's because I take 100%!"

Anyway, this concludes the debut entry of the toa blog. Please check back in the next day or two for further entries.

New on toa for November

The following appeared on the pages of toa in November:

November 28: Updated the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
November 22: The most recent of three postings to the new Talesofasia Guide to Indonesia.
November 22: Readers' Submissions, Cambodia: Antonio Graceffo offers: The Diversity of Cham Muslims.
November 22: Posted an update to the Overland Laos Travelers' Reports Section.
November 21: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports.
November 21: Posted a new submission to the Overland Bangkok to Phnom Penh + Sihanoukville Travelers' Reports.
November 21: Readers' Submissions, Cambodia / Thailand: Antonio Graceffo brings us Paddling on the Tonle Sap Lake, Lay Vicheka delivers four pieces: Cambodian Women and Barriers to Social Participation, Cambodia's Image from the New Eyes, Free-Market Economy and Free-Market University, and Principles of Citizenship. On Thailand, S. Stampfli offers Navigating Bangkok Rails and Rivers.
November 21: Jim's CA2 Corner returns with A Little About a Lot and Maybe Something You Can Use and Riding Season Here - Hazards to Consider.
November 12: Posted the new Talesofasia Guide to East Timor.

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